The Worst Video Game Ever

Photo via Sidedoor

Deep within the National Museum of American History’s vaults is a battered Atari case containing what’s known as “the worst video game of all time.” The game is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it was so bad that not even the might of Steven Spielberg could save it. It was so loathsome that all remaining copies were buried deep in the desert. And it was so horrible that it’s blamed for the collapse of the American home video game industry in the early 1980s.

More than 154 million treasures fill the Smithsonian’s vaults, but where public view ends, Sidedoor begins. With the help of biologists, artists, historians, archaeologists, zookeepers, and astrophysicists, host Lizzie Peabody sneaks listeners through Smithsonian’s side door to search for stories that can’t be found anywhere else. Find out more about Sidedoor: A Podcast from the Smithsonian here!



Sidedoor Smithsonian is hosted by Lizzie Peabody. The rest of the team includes Justin O’Neill, Jason Orfanon, Ann Conanan, Ellen Rolfes, Caitlin Shaffer, Jess Sadeq, Lara Koch, and Sharon Bryant, with support from John Barth, Jason Saldanha and Genevieve Sponsler at PRX. Sidedoor is mixed by Tarek Fouda. Music by Breakmaster Cylinder

  1. Johan

    It’s possible game development more or less died in the USA after the video game crash, and stayed that way for most of the 80s.. I don’t know, but I’m sceptical.

    In Europe, at least, the Commodore 64 and similar home computers took over and game development soon thrived again! The hardware were no longer as limited as on the 2600, and it became theoretically possible for anyone with a computer to try game development on the very same machines they used for gaming.

    Actually a lot of genres and gameplay-mechanisms which define computer gaming today had the roots in computer games developed then (and into the 90s). Even Atari had popular home computers with a large library of games.

    1. Al

      Totally agree, nothing died, there were well successful consoles except the Atari. Commodore, Spectrum- all had quite successful game titles during all the 80-s and even beginning of the 90-s

    2. leftylimbo

      Agreed, Johan!

      I was a huge Atari fan back in the ’80s, and still am today—although I do remember when they hit the skids in ’83. There were a few contributing factors aside from the E.T. flop, most of which they outlined in the podcast. I do have to say though, right around that time, Colecovision came in and blew every one out of the water. I mean, BIGtime. Atari may have been the one to bring the arcade experience home, but Colecovision *really* brought the real arcade experience home, down to the pixel. Their games looked *EXACTLY* like the arcade! Donkey Kong, Zaxxon…you name it!
      Anyone who was lucky enough to get a Colecovision for their birthday or Christmas (they were like $300 from what I remember) that year was suddenly everyone’s best friend, lol.

      And yes, also in ’83 and ’84, Atari and Commodore 64 were head-to-head as far as home computing was concerned. Since I was already a diehard Atari fan, I got an Atari 800XL and started checking out Compute! magazines from my local library to get some coding on. Although it was intriguing to me to be able to code games at home, I just didn’t have the patience nor hunger to really delve in to the world of coding/programming, and I eventually fell off altogether. There were quite a few fun titles back then which I played a lot… Archon, Lode Runner, Rescue On Fractalus, Beta Lyrae, Conan the Barbarian, Jumpman… the list goes on and on!

  2. Perry F. Bruns

    Personally, I think Custer’s Revenge is a far worse game in terms of quality; it just didn’t have the market reach of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

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